Tomorrow I turn 25 years old. I’m a quarter century! To celebrate, I’ve got a new pair of polka dot tights to pair with my favorite bright lipstick. I plan on leaving work a bit early, and I’ve got a date with my valentine at a surprise location. From all this, we can rest assured that it will shape up to be a pretty great birthday, but it’s not the one I want to tell you about today.
There’s one birthday that sticks out in my memory. It’s not because it was the best birthday; in fact, it sucked quite a lot. Maybe that’s why I remember parts of it so well.
I woke up on my ninth birthday tired and with a stomach ache. The night before had been rough. I didn’t feel that well, and in the middle of the night I woke up to what I thought was a tall man with a huge head standing at the end of my bed. Scared out of my mind, I can’t remember if I screamed or not, but someone — either me or my mom, awoken from my scream, maybe? — turned on the light and revealed the thin man to be a “Happy Birthday!” balloon tied to the end of my double bed.
Birthday strike one.
In the morning, third-grade Kate still didn’t feel well, but it was my birthday. And, on top of that it was Valentine’s Day. In grade school that meant a candy exchange plus birthday cake, all in one 6-hour school day. Any other day I would have taken full advantage of a sick day off from school, but not this day — the day I turned nine.
I slipped on my maroon cords and black loafers — my best outfit — and found my mom in the kitchen. I insisted on going to school. I would not be brought down. Not on my birthday. Not on Valentine’s Day.
At school, I pretended I felt fine. I made it to the mid-morning candy exchange, where a classmate passed me a small homemade birthday cake in addition to a cartoon Valentine with some kind of candy attached. What a sweet friend! I wanted to want a bite of the cake.
But with that thought, it was confirmed: I was going to throw up.
Birthday strike two.
I called my mom from the school office and headed home.
I’m sure from there, I slipped into pajamas, settled into my bed, and fell asleep. My next memory is of sitting on the couch that night opening presents. I don’t remember if I opened any packages, but I remember the guessing game I played with my parents about what big gift waited for me in the garage. I don’t remember if I correctly guessed “basketball hoop” or not, but I remember being excited despite my fluish tummy.
It had been a day of ups and downs.
That night I threw up 9 times — one time for each year I had lived.
Birthday strike three.